Spring is the time of year that we normally think of when it comes to seasonal allergies. As trees and plants start to bloom and the pollen gets airborne, allergy sufferers begin their annual ritual of sniffling and sneezing. At least one in five people, probably more, in the UK is thought to suffer from hayfever, also known as allergic rhinitis. Although there is no magical cure for spring allergies, there are a number of ways to combat them, from medication to household habits.
What causes spring allergies?
The most common spring allergy trigger is pollen - tiny grains released into the air by trees, grasses, and weeds for the purpose of fertilising other plants. When pollen grains get into the nose of someone who’s allergic, they send the immune system into overdrive.
The immune system, mistakenly seeing the pollen as foreign invaders, releases antibodies - substances that normally identify and attack bacteria, viruses, and other illness-causing organisms. The antibodies attack the allergens, which leads to the release of chemicals called histamines into the blood. Histamines trigger the runny nose, itchy eyes, and other symptoms of allergies.
Pollen can travel for miles, spreading a path of misery for allergy sufferers along the way. The pollen count measures the amount of allergens in the air in grains per cubic metre. The pollen count is often given with TV, radio, internet, or newspaper weather forecasts.
Here are some of the most common spring allergy offenders:
In the UK, the trees most likely to release pollen that causes hayfever are birch, elm, alder, hazel and horse chestnut. If you’re allergic to tree pollen, you will probably find that your symptoms are at their worst between March and May.
Grasses and weeds
Approximately 90% of hayfever sufferers in the UK are allergic to grass pollen. If your trigger allergen is grass pollen, you’ll probably experience your worst symptoms in high summer, starting as early as May and going through to July.
Weeds like plantains, mugwort, nettles and docks also produce bothersome pollen. Wind-pollinated flowers like the daisy family are another common source of problems. So too are spores produced by fungi such as mushrooms, and moulds like those in compost heaps.
Allergy symptoms tend to be particularly high on breezy days when the wind picks up pollen and carries it through the air. Rainy days, on the other hand, cause a drop in pollen counts because the rain washes away the allergens.
What are the symptoms of spring allergies?
Spring allergy symptoms include:
Airborne allergens can also trigger asthma, a condition in which the airways narrow, making breathing difficult and leading to coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath.